Don’t you just love it? The Irish Cup final between Cliftonville and Glentoran is coming up. Cliftonville have a largely nationalist supporter base and Glentoran have a largely unionist supporter base. Question: should they play ‘God Save The Queen’ before the game? That’s what I was mulling over on the Nolan Show on BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster this morning, along with the UUP's Jim Rodgers.
OK, let me put my cards on the table. I don’t think national anthems, much less ‘Ireland’s Bawl’ should be played before sporting events. And please, don’t say it’s a tradition. There used to be a tradition of playing ‘God Save The Queen’ at the end of the pictures here (that’s ‘movies’ for you younger people). There used to be a tradition of playing ‘God Save The Queen’ at the end of the day’s TV broadcasting. When I taught in Canada, they’d play ‘O Canada’ at the start of the school day and ‘God Save The Queen’ at the end. Thank God those daft traditions have been abandoned. Because to say something is traditional is to say nothing. Some traditions are good, some bad. Slavery, no votes for women, racism, sending 10-year-olds up chimneys to sweep them - all those were once entrenched traditions. Now they’re not, and those of us not brain-damaged are very glad they have been.
So I’d be in favour of ditching national anthems at the start of sporting events. All national anthems. Yes, yes, I know - they do it at international football games, they do it at the Olympics,, they even draw up a league table of which country has won most medals. Sad. Sad sad sad. Sportsmen and women don’t develop their talents for the sake of their country any more than artists or musicians or singers develop their talents for their country’s sake. Ars gratia artis - art for its own sake, sporting excellence for its own sake.
However and alas, they have insisted on playing national anthems and they do insist on playing them. And when, as with the Irish Cup final, it’s proposed there is no national anthem, unionism (Jim Rodgers et al) are up in arms - another bit of chipping away our you-know-what. No, Jim et al. What this is doing is achieving balance. Two teams, Cliftonville and Glentoran. Cliftonville largely nationalist/republican supporters, Glentoran largely unionist/loyalist supporters. The balanced thing to do is obvious - either you play both the Irish and the British national anthem, or you play none. Anything else is an unbalanced decision. And no, no, no, no - DON’T tell me “We’ve always played it before”. That, like hanging people, doesn’t make it right. So hats off to the IFA this one time at least. You’ve made a courageous, sensible decision not to play. Let’s hope you’ve the guts to stick by it now.